Extreme Friday Nights for South LA teens

Philip Wiley and Colleen are partnered up to run this new program. | Alexa Liacko

Philip Wiley and Colleen are partnered up to run this new program. | Alexa Liacko

Just off the Expo Line in South Central Los Angeles stands the Rancho Cienega Sports Center — a safe haven for young teens, and a place where one man gets to live his passion.

For Philip Wiley, “It’s something that means something to me — it means a lot.”

Wiley, the center’s recreation coordinator, has just launched “Extreme Friday Nights,” a program that gives local teens a place to hang out, play in the gym or do homework. So far, it’s been a big success.

“Look out there and see how many kids are running around! That’s a lot of kids!” Wiley said with a laugh. The program offers young people a place to come play basketball, get online in the computer lab or just come for a snack and some good company.

“If you wanna play basketball and work on your skills, nobody will bother you,” said 15-year-old Valance Sams. It’s safe, and if there’s any violence outside, you just come in here.”

“In this neighborhood, you’ve got a lot of negativity going on — a lot of gang-banging, drive-by shootings,” Wiley said. “If you know the kids are here, doing something constructive and positive, you know it’s gonna keep them out of trouble.”

“I feel safe here, more than when I go somewhere else,” said 13-year-old Jarrell Mickens.

“This gym has kept my from getting into so much trouble—I could’ve gotten into so much by now, but coming here and knowing it’s open every Friday night too…it’s just a good place to get active and have fun,” said Daniel Estes, 17.

Here for a reason

Wiley knows just how much places like the sports center can help young people get on track and stay there. He was orphaned at age 17. “I was lost,” he recalled. “I never knew anything but my parents, and I went to the streets.”

He said he pushed himself to go to community college to honor his parents’ wishes, but that he still “hung out with the guys at night.”

Just when he thought he might never escape being a “thug,” Wiley said the sports center’s director noticed him.

“The director here said, ‘Hey! I need a coach!’ And this lady stayed on me…I guess she saw the good in me,” Wiley said. Once he finally agreed to coach, he realized that “she kind of transformed me into the person that I was destined to be.”

With that encouragement, and eventually a job offer, Wiley discovered his passion—finding the good in others and bringing it out. “What the director did for me, I’m reciprocating for these kids,” he said.

The kids have noticed. “If you’re ever going through anything, he’ll help you with it so you don’t have to go through it alone,” Sams said.

“I treat ‘em just like my boys,” Wiley said. “At this center, we’re coaches, we’re mentors, we’re parents, surrogate parents, counselors. We do it all.”

He made sure that he did something for his parents too. Wiley continued his education and went on to get his master’s degree. He laughed when he asked himself, “Should I be making more money? I mean, probably! I could be making more, but it’s all about the gratification I get from working with these kids. These kids, they’re like my own.”

Many teens now consider the sports center a second home. “Someone took the time to do that for me,” said Wiley, “so I’m gonna do that for them.”

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South LA teens code their way to success by learning technology basics

Oscar Menjivar

Oscar Menjivar is the founder of URBAN TxT

Three years ago,  Oscar Menjivar, 35, a former technology consultant, was working for the  Los Angeles Unified School district (LAUSD) to integrate technology into classrooms when he noticed an upsetting trend.

After visiting an 8th grade classroom, he saw that a teacher had posted grades for a recent paper. Out of 16 papers, only two received a C and they belonged to male students.

“I went to the detention rooms and 90-95 percent of the kids there were young men,” Menjivar said.

Disturbed by this discovery, Menjivar researched dropout and incarceration rates. He found statistics to validate his observations — male students were falling behind.

According to the Center for the Study of Boys’ and Girls’ Lives, boys receive 70 percent of D and F grades. Sixty percent of high school dropouts are males.

In response, Menjivar founded URBAN TxT, a nonprofit organization to help male teens from South Los Angeles develop leadership and technology skills.

He employs a team of five to staff a 15-week summer academy where the boys learn computer programming and web development. Students are divided into teams where they compete against each other to create a website by the end of the summer. [Read more…]

Urban TXT teaching teens leadership skills through technology

By Jose Rodriguez image

Urban Teens Exploring Technology (TxT) is an organization that encourages inner city teens to become catalysts of change in urban communities through the use of technology, concentrating on South L.A and Watts high school students. Urban TxT youth develop skills they wouldn’t normally learn in a traditional school like research, public speaking, leadership and project management. The organization considers community, leadership, academics, and technology as pillars that serve as the foundation to succeed in life.

I joined Urban TxT because I wanted a challenge that dealt with technology. I learned how to create a website and realized how much planning it takes. The website was intended to give incoming high school freshmen an idea of what high school is about. It acts as a guideline for freshmen to follow and become competitive applicants for college. I didn’t think I would ever be a project manager for the website. Before the creation of the website, my teammates and I learned how to use web 2.0 tools as resources. Web 2.0 tools are free utility software available to the public. An example of a web 2.0 tool is “Splash up,” a Photoshop-like software that allows users to edit and manipulate images. Learning how to use web 2.0 tools helped us plan the website when the team was not able to meet in one place. That’s when we used “Mind 42,” a web 2.0 tool that allowed us to map out ideas in a form of a bubble map. We would have never learned how to use these tools in high school.

image Urban TxT challenged us emotionally through team building. We had to do most of the work from home, making it harder to manage the team and assign new deadlines. Oscar, our mentor, also challenged us with team building challenges. For example, we would have to complete challenges before entering the lab where we would meet. One such challenge was closing our eyes and creating a star with a rope. In order to complete the task, it was important to have good communication among the team members. The purpose for the challenges was to learn how to face problems, even with disabilities. This showed us the importance of working together as a team. Our biggest accomplishment was how we all overcame obstacles. With the help of Oscar’s guidance, we were able to find solutions to complex problems by doing research and thinking outside the box.

Being in Urban TxT gave me the opportunity to work with Oscar at L.A. Trade Tech, managing the social media of the organization. He taught me the basic principles of how social media works and its effectiveness. My classmates and I also got the opportunity to visit Cal Poly Pomona which was an amazing experience. Graduate students who helped develop Urban TxT gave us a tour and focused on areas that interested us such as computer science, computer engineering, and civil engineering. We even had the chance to enter labs where students perform experiments and also had a conversation with a professor about hydrology, the study of water, which led to a small lesson of where we can find the best possible source of water. Our plan for the summer is to raise money for a trip to Google. Thanks to Roxanne, who has been able to contact Google staff, arrangements are being made to set a date in which we can all attend.

This article will appear in The Toiler Times, the student newspaper of Manual Arts High School.
Jose Rodriguez is an 11th grader at MAHS.